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As Family Business Shifts to Next Generation, Steffen's Is Ready for Future

“It’s happening here.”
 
When the “It’s happening” campaign kicked off in Covington several years ago, many believed it was the start of a renaissance in downtown and throughout the city. A short time later, the buzz wore off and Covington labored on, struggling to find its way. 
 
Over the last eighteen months, however, the city has seemingly shifted the momentum and new and old businesses are beginning to believe in Covington. When Arden Steffen, Vice President of Steffen’s Tool Crib, uttered these three words during a conversation last week, you get the sense that things are in fact happening in the city – just a little later than most expected. 
 
Steffen, who stepped into the role two years ago after her father and the face of the family business was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, is happy to be a part of the revitalization of downtown Covington. The Steffen name has been recognized in the city since the late 1800’s when two Steffen brothers opened a dairy after immigrating to the U.S. 
 
After spending over 30 years operating the dairy, the family changed gears and jumped into the flooring business in the early 1900’s. For the next 40 years, through WWI and WWII, the family laid many of the wood floors in businesses throughout Covington. After WWII, Steffen’s grandfather returned home after serving as a Navy navigator in the war and told his father R.J. that the family needed to “start renting equipment.” Although her great grandfather R.J. was against the idea, Steffen’s grandfather did it anyway and after operating the rental business out of a home on E. 17th Street for nearly five years, he opened a store across from Holmes High School. 
 
In the mid-to-late 1960’s, the Steffen family business moved into its current location on W. Pike Street which was originally occupied by Hartke and Sons, a carriage manufacturer. Over the next 50 years, Steffen’s Tool Crib continued to grow, eventually opening a second location in Florence. 
 
A few years ago, however, Steffen’s father’s health began to decline and it was later determined he was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Aside from being a beloved member of the community, Steffen’s father was also the “computer of the business” so when he had to step away, Steffen says it was as if the business had “lost everything.”
 
Despite the fact she had limited knowledge of the business, Steffen, who is also a nurse at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, moved into the vice president role and immediately got to work “modernizing” the company. Up until the time she took over, Steffen says the business relied on carbon copies for everything and had never used a computer. To track daily operations and inventory, Steffen went out and purchased new computers and software and later launched a Steffen’s website and Facebook page, two moves that immediately impacted the business. 
 
After going from “the year 1960 to 2014 in a day,” Steffen set out to upgrade and remodel the Pike Street showroom to showcase the business’ history and pay homage to both her father and grandfather. She also installed an air conditioning unit in the building to help keep both employees and the new computer system cool and has plans to build out the area just off the main showroom in the coming week. 
 
Steffen says the company will continue to rent small tools and lawn care equipment but has decided to expand its party supplies business which rents chairs, tables, turkey fryers, popcorn, and sno-cone machines, light towers, and cotton candy makers among other equipment. 
 
To help spread the word about these changes, Steffen’s sister Tara, who works full-time for a company in Ohio, has been brought in to handle the business’ marketing strategy. 
 
Aside from grassroots efforts such as walking the city passing out flyers, the Steffens have also looked to join local business organizations, extended a 15% discount to all servicemen and women, and will sponsor the local walk for Alzheimer’s this fall to not only spread the word about their business but to show their support for the community they love. Steffen says the business also uses local vendors whenever possible.
 
“We try to keep everything we do in Northern Kentucky,” Steffen said. 
 
In all, the longtime Northern Kentucky business employs over 15 people between their two locations, including five from the Steffen family. Going forward, Steffen wants to continue to grow the family business here and be involved in the turnaround in Covington. Steffen is a big supporter of a Business Improvement District (BID) and is excited to see all the development underway in the city. To bring about change, however, 
 
Steffen says it’s going to take a unified, community effort. 
 
“We need to improve this area if we want to attract the people we want to attract,” she said. “There are so many projects going on down here. It’s exciting...I want us to be a part of it.” 
 
Steffen’s Tool Crib will host an open house this Friday, July 11th from 10a-2p at their location at 121 W. Pike Street in downtown Covington. Lunch and refreshments will be provided and many of the business’ party rental supplies will be on display. The event is free and open to the general public.
 
Story & photos by Jerod Theobald, managing editor at The River City News